More background on Dexter Johnson – by his father

To further understand how uncharacteristic and unexpected this suicide was, it is necessary to know a little about Dexter and our life in Lethbridge, AB, during a decade of school and growing up. He was not a troubled youth. I would not normally include personal background in the discussion of his medical treatment, but it is relevant. I also would not normally recount my life and efforts as a father or seem to ask for approval, but, oddly, my relationship with my son is questioned in health care records, and my standing (in law and in fact) as the day-to-day care parent (since 2011) is also disputed, a position which should have meant I would receive a warning and a chance to help him. I never imagined that one of my boys would be put on dangerous medication without my knowledge. Dexter was embarrassed to tell me about being sent to a doctor while in BC, as I found later that he told his friends, and told them that he was encouraged to keep it from me. This was interpreted by some I had never met as a bad relationship with his father, and it is possible that the idea came from someone else or that Dexter allowed whatever impression was needed to just try out medication (he did not have the science background to know that “chemical imbalance”, and the role of serotonin in depression are baseless but wishful pseudoscience), and avoid embarrassment.

I always felt I had the very good fortune of being their father. Dexter’s Alberta Personal Health number from birth is 80270-7631. He was born in Calgary Feb 2, 2006, 7 weeks premature.

I called an association in BC for help, and my role as guardian and his residence in Alberta were not accepted. I provided the boys’ day-to-day care for all school and activities from age 4 to present. I was the parent at 100% of school days, soccer, baseball (I coached one year), archery, air rifle, sports of all kinds, birthday parties, vaccinations, pandemic protection, world travel, science clubs, music lessons, pool parties, swimming lessons, karate, annual marathons, band concerts, symphony, running club (3 times a week at Lakeview Elementary school), learning to ride a bike, awards nights, graduations, archery, target shooting, and so on. I am the one who walked him to and from every day of K-5 (I didn’t trust the traffic, and sometimes carried his brother, when he had casts and later crutches), then drove every day to Middle School and High School.

We three were well known in their four schools for our participation and closeness, and the boys are still remembered by their schools and the community for kindness, even temper, imagination, enthusiasm, clarity of thought, and skills in the classroom. I don’t think the students and teachers will ever forget him. Never once from pre-school on did the boys present any difficulties, trouble, or anxiety for themselves or others. I only saw Dexter shed a tear once in his life, when he was about 13 and wanted a particular haircut and instead it was buzzed short. I never had any cause to be disappointed. Even now, this year, their awards and good attitudes were remembered by the Lakeview Elementary vice-principal, who wrote on Twitter “We loved teaching your brilliant boys.” Dexter’s elementary school teachers attended his funeral. His kindergarten teacher posted this:

“January 20, 2022, I was so fortunate to teach Dexter and Scott in Kindergarten at Lakeview. Dexter had an inquisitive mind and was always ready to tackle every activity with excitement. Dexter was such a caring and thoughtful boy. I will cherish all the smiles, the laughter and the joy he brought into our classroom each day! My sincere condolences to Scott, Dan and family for your loss. He was a talented and wonderful person and I'm honoured to have known him. Thinking of you.”

Through his years at the University of Lethbridge Daycare, then the Lethbridge schools, Lakeview Elementary School, Gilbert Paterson Middle School, and Winston Churchill High School, Dexter was respectful of others, friendly, intelligent, and could always make people smile. Every teacher said how much he improved the class, and he was on the honour role and had academic achievement awards every year, writing years above his level. He won the silver, and then gold, in the regional Kangaroo Math Contest, and so on. (Senior scientist Dr. Larry Kawchuk at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre said, “When I think of Dexter, I think Nobel Prize.”) Dexter was skilled in music, science, math, writing, relationships with others, and also woodworking and cooking. After he died, the school gave me his grades, all over 90, and 100 for cooking, for which he was well known in his school. Dexter was known as an “awesome chef” at school, and did his first cooking at home in December, 2021; we joked that my decade of cooking 21 meals a week was finally over. They put a page on this amazing guy in the school yearbook.

Dexter was forward-thinking. It was a big part of his life that he chose his high school for the International Baccalaureate program. It could be that he did not reveal his interest in trying medication at school because he wanted to appear 100% positive. His future was key to all of us, especially to him. He was pleased to be accepted into a university biochemistry course on RNA (which started two weeks after his death). He told his friends that he was pleased his dad had saved a big RESP fund for university (we were given this text, and many others). He often discussed his possible choice of university and programs. He told a friend he might try to do a double major in music and biomedical research, at UCLA Berkeley. I don’t know how he chose it, but if anyone could do it, he could. As the teachers told me later, everyone was surprised because Dexter was the last person anyone expected this to happen to. Now we know why it did.

I never had any reason to be disappointed in anything the boys did, never felt the need to correct Dexter in any way, and there was never any conflict between Dexter and his brother. A call to any teacher or other parent in Lethbridge would confirm that there were never any problems with Dexter or between us in our family. The fiction connected to the secret prescription that we did not have a good relationship would shock any teacher, parent, or anyone else who knows us over the 11 years I cared for them alone in Lethbridge. Dexter was known as an amazing child and kind young man with a sharp intellect and a good attitude - I never once felt Dexter should have done something differently, should have studied more, treated others better, chosen differently – no disappointments ever.

I see that I posted this for friends on Nov 20, 2016: “I waited a week to post this, because of the way it sounds, and I try not to do that. But later maybe someone among friends of family will see it, and it will be saved as a minor family story. Last week Scott and Dexter were in the front yard and I was making supper. The doorbell rang and a fellow, older than me, was there, and said “Are those your kids? They were in the park the other day by themselves.” He had pulled his truck over at the curb in front. I said yes, and he looked like he was pausing to think of how to say what he had to say. I kind of prepared myself, without thinking the words but getting ready to just listen and then drop it, whatever complaint he had, since I knew it would have no impact on my view of them. But then he said, “I saw them and pulled over to see if you lived here. They were at the park when I was there with my grandkids. Your kids are the nicest kids, really special. They introduced themselves to my grandkids and came over and introduced themselves to me, and then played so well with all the kids, even the little ones, patient and including everyone. It’s good to see really nice kids. Whatever you are doing, keep it up. My name is Brian.” Then he left.”

At Dexter’s funeral, a parent told me that Dexter was the one who helped Dexter’s friend through a long tough period that included the friend having suicidal thoughts. He was entirely positive, thoughtful, amazingly gifted, confident, stable, successful, yet happy and humble and a good influence on others. He needed to study, but gave his time to help others.

I am not just saying this as a proud father, but I have taught for over 20 years, and Dexter was an exceptionally talented, hard-working student, with confidence and good humour. People would ask “How do you keep up, with one of you and two of them, plus a demanding job?” I always answered, “They make it easy, just being around them is great.” Even now, anyone who knows us would be happy to talk about the boys’ balanced views, clever minds, good citizenship, and our closeness. Our travels together to Florida, Morocco, England, to see the 100% solar eclipse in Wyoming, fossil hunting, Yellowstone, camping in Alberta, frequent hikes in the Rockies, and so on were happy days for us, filled with learning and peace. Dexter did not have anything wrong with him; he was a victim of circumstances and the faulty decisions of others.

Text to a friend:

Dexter’s mistake was hoping some miracle drug would make sadness go away, rather than seek counselling. It should not have been up to him to skip patient safety. The true risk might not have been communicated to him. He preferred to just not mention it, but he didn’t know the need for monitoring was more serious than that.